Posted by: silverback | 2010/06/21


it should come as no surprise to those who know me well that i have a man-crush. i’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit that this one isn’t the first, either.

it’s not a sexual thing – not like i wanna bang these guys (with one possible exception…) – more like i admire them for their talent. perhaps i even covet their talents, and their ability to attract the admiration of millions of other people. and i don’t think i’m the only guy around to be stricken by these crushes. otherwise, why would thousands of men still be sporting big number “3”s on the back windows of their Dodge Neons?

the first man-crush i can remember was probably Bowie. i even got my hair styled like him, and briefly tried to carry off his androgynous style – which turned out to be an immense mistake in high school in even a moderately-cultured city.

fear and focus are often one and the same.

the next person i can remember crushing on was late-80’s MotoGP star Freddie Spencer. he was God on a motorbike. there was this one photo of him obviously sliding the front of his Rothmans Honda through a corner on a racecourse in Europe that struck me with awe. i had just begun riding a street bike, with some amount of fear, and i couldn’t at the time even wrap my brain around sliding the front end through a corner!

of course, the fact that we shared the same first name contributed no small amount to my hero-worship. sadly, he seems to have gone a little bit crazy in recent years.

Michael Schumacher came on the scene at some point in the early 90’s. his sheer talent behind the wheel of the Benetton and Ferrari F1 cars, coupled with his Teutonic über-cool, enthralled me for many years. i was somewhat excited to see him coming back to F1 in 2010 for Mercedes, but the reality exists that the sport has been inundated with young talent since his departure. i’m afraid he’s going to get his ass handed to him and leave the sport remembered as less the unstoppable force he was and more the old man attempting to recapture a glimpse of previous glory.

somewhere in there Eddie Vedder made his presence known to the world, coming from Nowhere, Pacific Coast, to front one of the most influential bands of the 90’s with his epic set of pipes. i was still enlisted in the Navy when TEN came out, and missed seeing Pearl Jam play in a bar in Jacksonville by about four drunken hours. just one of my many regrets. Vedder’s powerful primal vocals stirred something in me every time i sang along at the top of my lungs while roaming Engine Room Lower Level on my first boat. i could have been quoted at the time as saying, “given the chance, i might just fuck that guy.” not so much anymore, but hey – i was young and still trying to figure out who i was, mostly in a drunken haze. i’ve since figured out that dudes don’t really do it for me.

this all brings me to my present man-crush.

Ben Spies was only two years old when i left for boot camp in 1986. he won his first championship with the CMRRA the year i got out, in 1994. he was ten. he turned Pro in 2000, and won the AMA Superbike Championship the first time in 2006. he repeated, against arguably the most ruthless and talented teammate he could’ve had – Mat Mladin – in 2007 and 2008. he got a wildcard GP ride at Indy in 2008 and rode to 6th place against the best riders in the world, and it looked as if he might move to the factory Suzuki GP squad in 2009, but apparently somebody dropped the proverbial ball. in a big way. with too many question marks in the MotoGP paddock, Spies made the jump to World Superbike in 2009, with the factory Yamaha team, riding a brand new bike on largely brand-new courses in Europe and Asia.

the boy went to work. he did the new-bike development, creating a competitive package with an unknown bike that has been shown to be grossly down on power compared to much of the field. he took the pole and hit the top of the podium in his first race weekend at Philip Island, and didn’t look back. he took a record number of Superpole positions as a WSB rookie, and rode convincingly to the Superbike World Championship in 2009. he never once made an excuse. his celebrations were not showy or overblown. he was not one to brag about his achievements along the way. he never spoke ill of his bike, his team, or his competition. he quietly worked his ass off and put the bike exactly where it needed to be most of the time. many races he won walking away. it was a phenomenon to witness, and i am so glad to have been paying attention when it happened. i can honestly say i didn’t miss seeing one SBK race in 2009.

the deal was, he would spend two years in SBK before moving to the satellite Yamaha team in MotoGP in 2011. apparently, somebody at Yamaha was paying better attention than the folks at Suzuki had been the year before, because they called him up to ride in the premier class this season. no sense wasting that amount of raw talent for another year.


i was happy to see him go to the Tech3 team with Colin Edwards. the other Texan is getting a little bit long in the tooth, but is still competitive, and is probably among the best development riders in the paddock. he has been with Yamaha, and Tech3 in particular, for long enough to have created a very-well-setup bike. GP bikes are very different animals than 1000cc Superbikes, requiring a riding style that’s more suited to riders coming up from the European 250 classes than pure Superbike riders. but we had all seen Ben’s talent at riding the wheels off of bikes that weren’t supposed to be that fast, and outriding riders that he wasn’t supposed to be able to beat. i have to admit, i have been among those clicking “no,” on the online polls with the question, “Will Ben Spies podium in his rookie MotoGP season?”

i was wrong. Silverstone 2010. AirAsia British GP. Spies qualified 7th, which was his best effort yet, but still a pretty good pull up to the top four. the last couple races – LeMans in particular – he had shown an ability to hang onto the back of the lead pack of “aliens.” all it would take is one of the top runners to crash out, and good tire management, and Spies had a crack at top-five, anyway. well, the perfect storm happened. Spies was able to reel in the four riders battling for 2nd in the last 5 laps of the race. pushing hard, he put first Pedrosa, then de Puniet behind him, as those riders’ tires went off after their race-long clashes. Hayden was just ahead, riding in third on the Ducati, himself pushing Dovizioso for second place pretty hard.

the thing i love about watching Spies ride is that you can tell when he’s pulled the pin. he’s already crazy fast, and his riding style is smooth and flowing beyond description. when he decides to go, however, his whole body changes. he just looks laser-guided. he makes no errors, he sees gaps where there shouldn’t be gaps, and his focus is unshakable. we saw it in side-by-side battles with Haga and Fabrizio last season in SBK. we saw it again yesterday with Hayden. the pass was done before the rest of us mortals even saw the opening. and he didn’t run it wide on exit. and he picked up the throttle early enough to outdrive the more-powerful Ducati. he then had the presence of mind to defend the position for the rest of the lap, crossing the line in third place to hit the podium in only his 9th MotoGP race. ever.

you'll remember this day forever, kid.

this young man is a phenomenon – a BAD. ASS. and i guess i’ve got it pretty bad for him right now. good luck, kid.



  1. […] championship on the proven Ducati 1198. enter rookie Ben Spies. the story has already been told in this blog, but Spies won in his second race in the season-opening round, and didn’t stop winning for […]

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